Variations on a Theme by ETS

Experienced AP calculus teacher use as many released exam questions during the year as they can. They are good questions and using them gets the students used to the AP style and format.  They can be used “as is”, but many are so rich that they can be tweaked to test other concepts and to make the students think wider and deeper.  

Below is a multiple-choice question from the 2008 AB calculus exam, question 9.

 2008 mc9The graph of the piecewise linear function f  is shown in the figure above. If \displaystyle g\left( x \right)=\int_{-2}^{x}{f\left( t \right)\,dt}, which of the following values is the greatest?

(A)  g(-3)         (B)  g(-2)         (C)  g(0)         (D)  g(1)         (E)  g(2)

I am now going to suggest some ways to tweak this question to bring out other ideas. Here are my suggestions. Some could be multiple-choice others simple short constructed response questions. A few of these questions, such as 3 and 4, ask the same thing in different ways.

      1. Require students to show work or justify their answer even on multiple-choice questions. So for this question they should write, “The answer is (D) g(1) since x = 1 is the only place where {g}'\left( x \right)=f\left( x \right) changes from positive to negative.” 
      2. Ask, “Which of the following values is the least?” (Same choices)
      3. Find the five values listed.
      4. Put the five values in order from smallest to largest.
      5. If \displaystyle g\left( x \right)=g\left( -2 \right)+\int_{-2}^{x}{f\left( t \right)dt} and the maximum value of g is 7, what is the minimum value?
      6. If \displaystyle g\left( x \right)=g\left( -2 \right)+\int_{-2}^{x}{f\left( t \right)dt} and the minimum value of g is 7, what is the maximum value?
      7. Pick any number (not just an integers) in the interval [–3, 2] to be a and change the stem to read, “If \displaystyle g\left( x \right)=g\left( a \right)+\int_{a}^{x}{f\left( t \right)dt} ….” And then ask any of the questions above – some answers will be different, some will be the same. Discussing which will not change and why makes a worthwhile discussion.
      8. Change the equation in the stem to \displaystyle g\left( x \right)=3x+\int_{-2}^{x}{f\left( t \right)dt} and ask the questions above. Again most of the answers will change. Also this question and the next start looking like some free-response questions. Compare them with 2011 AB 4 and 2010 AB 5(c)
      9. Change the equation in the stem to \displaystyle g\left( x \right)=-\tfrac{3}{2}x+\int_{-2}^{x}{f\left( t \right)dt} and ask the questions above. This time most of the answers will change.
      10. Change the graph and ask the same questions.

Not all questions offer as many variations as this one. For some about all you can do is use them “as is” or just change the numbers.

Any other adaptations you can think of?

What is your favorite question for tweaking?

 Math in the News Combinatorics and UPS

Revised: August 24, 2014


1 thought on “Variations on a Theme by ETS

  1. One thing I love to do with multiple choice is to point out which incorrect option is most often chosen, and have the students figure out why. They then have to write an explanation of why that wrong option was so tempting, and explain the way to avoid that “trap” in the future.


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